Reasons to Approve the Arboretum Visitor Center Preliminary Development Plan

  1. Building out the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens has been the dream of thousands for over 30 years.
    • In the late 80’s, the Legacy of Greenery Committee and the City’s Governing Body made a commitment to develop a truly signature destination for the people of Overland Park by purchasing 300 acres on 179th Street. (The land was not donated.)
    • The intention to develop the property as a civic attraction in Overland Park has never been a secret.
    • Over the years, the City of Overland Park and the Arts & Recreation Foundation of Overland Park have invested millions of dollars as the dream began to take shape with the addition of gardens and the Environmental Education Visitor Center and treasured community events and the development of plans to add features as funds were available.
  2. The Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens is a civic amenity and regional destination. It is not a park!
    • It is one of over 300 public gardens in North America that all have a much broader mission than being a beautiful place to take a walk. 
    • Botanical Gardens/Arboreta not only preserve green space and provide an escape from our frantic world to stop and smell the roses, they enrich communities by serving as outdoor art museums, life-long learning providers, centers for sustainability efforts, and – indeed – destinations for events in spectacular surroundings. 
    • Events and the spaces for them are an integral part of the operations of botanical gardens/arboreta. 
  3. The Visitor Center event spaces are and always have been parts of the vision for the Arboretum.
    • From the time that Overland Park representatives visited regional botanical gardens in the late 80’s to learn more about what owning and operating a public garden would mean, the City of Overland Park has included event spaces in the Arboretum vision.
    • The current Arboretum Master Plan containing the Visitor Center, expanded parking, and the Great Lawn was adopted by the Governing Body in 2006. 
    • The 2006 plan replaced a very similar plan adopted in 2002. That plan also included the Visitor Center in approximately the same location as presently sited and states that 80% of the land would remain natural (except for trails, benches and interpretive signage). The remainder would be developed as botanical gardens, buildings, and gathering areas. This remains true.
    • The features in this project are just part of the $40,000,000 (in 2006 dollars) expansion plan for the Arboretum adopted in 2006. Also included were “The Rill” (designed to be the defining feature of the botanical gardens), new gardens , and 4 other buildings for displaying plants not native to our area – The Tropical House, The Camellia House, The Desert House, and The Butterfly House.
    • The only features in the Master Plan completed between 2006 and the present are the Iris Garden, the Train Garden and Serenity Point overlooking the future Rose Garden space.
  4. The small performance space is part of the Sculpture Garden Master Plan adopted by the Governing Body in 2013.
    • The sculpture garden covers over 200 acres of the 320 acres adjacent to the Arboretum donated to the City by R. Crosby Kemper, Jr. in 2000. 
    • Designating such a large portion of this property to passive use as a sculpture garden ensures that the property will remain mainly green space. But, there are no constraints on the City as to how the property can be utilized.
    • Structures to be built in the sculpture garden include an Art Center, an Entry Pavilion, several open-air pavilions, and seating niches as well as the small performance space and restrooms.
  5. The future of the Arboretum and what it means to this community is on the line.
    • The new Visitor Center is the “front door” to the Arboretum experience. 
    • It will define the Overland Park Arboretum as a major regional amenity.
    • The remainder of the Master Plan cannot come to fruition without the Visitor Center and surrounding area being constructed first.
    • Programming cannot expand until there are better facilities to contain it.
  6. No apologies – “not sorry” – Events and activities at the Arboretum generate income that reduces the burden on taxpayers and enriches the Arboretum experience for guests.
    • The annual budget for the Arboretum is over $900,000.
    • The Arboretum recovers approximately 1/3 of that by producing revenue from admission fees, rentals, and sales in the gift shop and small café.
    • The addition of the Visitor Center and outdoor gathering spaces will increase user-generated revenue and reduce the tax burden by providing additional rental areas (especially the 200-person multi-purpose space for wedding receptions and corporate events), a larger gift shop, and expanded food and beverage service in the new café.
    • Friends of the Arboretum (FOTA) has raised and donated millions of  dollars for the benefit of the Arboretum. A huge portion is generated by special events. In 2017, Luminary Walk generated over $340,000 at a cost of $60,000. Thanks to wonderful volunteers and support from Arboretum and Arts & Recreation Foundation staff, that’s an example of great fundraising – the cost per dollar raised was less than 18¢!
    • Without the ability to execute special events such as Luminary Walk, Terra Luna, Botanical Brewfest, and the Spring Plant Sale successfully, FOTA would not have sufficient funds to continue “promoting and providing for” the Arboretum. FOTA provides nearly 100% of the funding needed for educational programing, family activities, advertising and printed materials, and exhibits. FOTA and ARFOP have been significant donors to all capital improvement projects at the Arboretum – including the Train Garden, botanical gardens, the greenhouses, the deer fence, and even the new restroom south of the Train Garden. Without the efforts of ARFOP and FOTA, there would not be as much educational programming, as many family activities, or nearly the number and scope of reasons to enjoy visiting the Arboretum.
    • ARFOP holds its major fundraiser at the Arboretum – Stems: A Garden Soirée – for approximately 2,000 people annually. Those funds provide the “working capital” for ARFOP to exist. Without these funds, ARFOP could very well cease to exist – or, at the very least, would not be as effective as it is in generating donations and supporting the Friends groups’ volunteer efforts.
  7. The community has enthusiastically shown its support for this project for the past 4 years by contributing to the Arts & Recreation Foundation’s Growing to Inspire campaign.
    • As of this date, the campaign has raised just under $7,500,000 to augment City funds for this project.
    • In 4 years of sharing information about this project, ARFOP had received no negative feedback until the neighbors in Arbor View and Wolf Valley recently threatened to derail the project.
    • The fundraising consulting firm Hartsook conducted a feasibility study in 2015 that concluded that there was community support for building the Visitor Center, expanded parking, new outdoor gathering areas, and phase 1 of the sculpture garden with the performance space. They further counseled ARFOP that there was enough support to raise $10,000,000 for the project.
    • In early 2016, the architectural firms of Momenta (now merged with DLR Group) and Confluence held visioning sessions with the community to provide input into the design and program features to be included in the Visitor Center, event spaces, and surrounding gardens. The design is the result of that community input.
    • In 2017, the City added the project to the 2018-2022 Capital Improvements Program budget, and committed $2,375,000 to the project and scheduled construction for 2020.
    • ARFOP has provided ample opportunities for the community to communicate that this project is a bad idea, and none have until this small group began their protest.
      • We have made presentations at public meetings. 
      • We have spoken to numerous Rotary Clubs and Chambers of Commerce in Johnson County.
      • We even had a meeting with Wolf Valley homeowners in 2017.
      • There have been newspaper and magazine articles about the project.
      • A complete overview of the visitor center project is on the ARFOP website.
      • There is a comprehensive computer-generated video “fly-through” of the project on the website, and it has been shown to countless individuals at events.
      • There are posters and literature in the EEVC.
      • The project has been featured in the City’s Quarterly Newsletter – THE OVERVIEW.
      • And, not to be missed, there are two large signs at the Arboretum that include renderings of the Visitor Center. One is prominently featured on the driveway as guests enter the grounds. 
  8. The Visitor Center is vital to the future of the Arboretum.
    • The Visitor Center will provide much needed functional spaces.
    • The administrative wing will provide work space for staff and volunteers that is seriously lacking now.
    • Public spaces are the “Grand Hall” to welcome guests to the Arboretum, the Café, the Gift Shop, 2 rooms for lectures, educational activities and interactive displays, and restrooms – all of this in dedicated areas instead of everything being crowded into a small space as it is now in the EEVC. 
    • There will also be beautiful spaces available for rental fees. The areas will accommodate groups of 25 to 200. It is anticipated that the Arboretum Visitor Center will become a very popular site for wedding receptions, other family celebrations, and business gatherings.
    • Community input during the design stage envisioned the Visitor Center as a place for “Art, Education and Celebration.” 
  9. The Visitor Center is critical to the expansion of the Arboretum’s education program.
    • After the opening of the new Visitor Center, the building currently used as a temporary visitor center (EEVC) will be used as it was originally intended and become the Environmental Education Center.
    • The EEC will be home base for field trips, school projects, and classes for adults and children.
    • Dedicated space will enable the educational program at the Arboretum to grow and flourish in a facility exclusively for life-long learning about the environment, plant life, native wildlife, and more.
  10. The small performance space is a feature in the Sculpture Garden on the Kemper Farm property that will provide an area for small-scale entertainment. 
    • Permanent lighting is NOT in the plan. 
    • There is NO permanent seating in the plan – just a slightly sloping hillside for blankets and folding chairs.
    • The stage is a concrete slab. The stage faces south.
    • A new restroom facility will serve this area of the property. 
    • The area is large enough to accommodate no more than 1,000 – and optimally 850 or less. 
    • The space will NOT accommodate “rock concerts for 25,000.” It is not Sandstone or Starlight or anything remotely similar.
  11. The patio accessible to the event space in the Visitor Center, the Wedding Green, and the Great Lawn were all designed to allow for moderate-sized gatherings outdoors.
    • The patio is accessible through wide doorways from the event space and overlooks the new pond. The plan allows for events of about 300 people to utilize both the indoor and outdoor spaces together.
    • The Wedding Green provides dedicated space for outdoor wedding celebrations just a few steps from the patio and the indoor space for a reception. Early interest in these spaces indicate that they will make the Arboretum one of the premier locations in Johnson County for weddings.
    • The tree-lined Great Lawn sloping to the western edge of Margaret’s Pond will be available to visitors for picnics and just relaxing; and, yes, there may be occasional music there in the afternoons or early evenings. It may someday also be the location for some of the food and beverage stations that are features of Stems and Botanical Brewfest.
    • The “Upper Great Lawn” isn’t really a “space” at all! It will exist as a manicured lawn only until funding is available to build the “Tropical House,” a climate controlled structure to display plants native to warmer climates, which is in the plan for that location.
  12. One of the 8 initiatives identified by the Forward OP visioning process was “Gathering – physical spaces, program, and events for people.”
    • The steps, as outlined in the Forward OP report, to create more gathering spaces in Overland Park are quite specific and include:
      • Creating large, signature gathering spaces,
      • Exploring opportunities to integrate smaller-scale gathering and green spaces within existing areas,
      • Expanding and creating community-wide events celebrating quality of life, fun, and cultural diversity and inclusion. 
    • Utilizing the Arboretum to achieve some of these goals fits into the Forward OP Vision.
  13. The preservation and operation of 640 acres of green space programmed for the enjoyment of the community is an asset to the surrounding neighborhoods. It is not a detriment to property values.
  14. There are no plans for events larger than have already taken place at the Arboretum. 
    • Current infrastructure is not sufficient to handle rock concert-sized crowds.
    • Arboretum staff does not have the capacity to manage events with larger crowds.
    • Arboretum staff and volunteers know that events too large to manage successfully negatively impact the guest experience. For example: The very warm temperatures in 2017 brought 39,100 people to the Arboretum over 6 nights to enjoy the Holiday Luminary Walk – over 8,500 on one night and more than twice as many people overall who had ever attended Luminary Walk in one year! That experience necessitated limiting the number of tickets sold on each night to 6,000. In 2018 when temperatures were more seasonable, there was only one of the six nights that brought 6,000 people to the event. Traffic and parking were manageable, and the guest experience was much better. 
  15. ARFOP and FOTA apologize if the sound system rented for Botanical Brewfest in October violated the city’s noise ordinance. It is not our intention to violate any city codes, ordinances or regulations and will make every effort to comply.

For further information about the project, 

Visit the ARFOP website –

View the submittal to the Planning Commission –

View the City’s Comprehensive Development Plan  –